April 23, 2011 ·2 Comments
JUBA — Thousands of civilians have fled fighting between rebels and south Sudan’s army in oil-producing Unity state, as separate clashes erupted elsewhere in the troubled region on Saturday, officials said.
“The fighting in recent days has been very fierce, and the people have been running away from the violence to safety,” said Charles Machieng, commissioner of Unity’s Mayom county, the area of heaviest fighting.
“Although we have no reports of fighting today (Saturday), assessments show that there are 3,800 civilians who have fled, many who are here in Mayom town because their houses have been destroyed,” he added.
Clashes in the soon-to-be-independent south broke out on Tuesday between the army and a rebel group led by former southern army general Peter Gadet, one of at least seven separate militia groups battling the southern government.
But just as the violence appeared to subside, separate clashes broke out on Saturday morning close to the town of Malakal, between the army and gunmen said to be allied to former militia leader Gabriel Tang, officials said.
Fighting in the Canal area of northern Jonglei state, around 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Malakal, started at mid-morning, said state information ministry official Bartholomew Pakwan Abwol.
“Fighting broke out in the vicinity of Canal,” said Abwol, speaking from Malakal. “The fighting is still occurring and we have few details at present.”
Tang commanded a pro-Khartoum militia during the devastating 1983-2005 civil war between north and south Sudan, but agreed to join the southern army late last year.
His forces were reportedly waiting to to be integrated into the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) when the fighting broke out.
More than 800 people have been killed and 94,000 people forced from their homes in fighting since January, according to UN estimates, when southerners voted overwhelming to forge their own nation in a largely peaceful referendum.
No reliable death toll of casualties was available from the fighting in Unity state, with the rebels and the army each claiming to have killed “several” on the other side, and dismissing each other’s reports as lies.
The violence there has also forced the evacuation of 130 northern oil industry workers back to the north.
Machieng said SPLA reinforcements drove the rebels out of the small town of Mankien on Friday, after two days of fighting there.
“The whole market there and many houses have been destroyed by fire,” he said. “The rebels are being chased, and have scattered in different directions.”
However, the rebels loyal to Gadet, who calls the “South Sudan Liberation Army,” said they had deliberately withdrawn, while confirming that a large number of civilians had fled the fighting.
“The SPLA have sent in large reinforcements, but they have not defeated us,” rebel spokesman Bol Gatkouth, a former lawmaker in the south’s parliament, told AFP.
“We are just resting in a secure place for now,” Bol said. “This fight is far from over.”
The rebels said earlier this month they wanted to overthrow the southern government, denouncing “rampant corruption” at the top levels of the SPLM, the south’s ruling party.
The SPLM has repeatedly accused Khartoum of arming splinter militia groups to destabilise the south ahead of its secession from the north in July, a claim Khartoum rejects.
Fighting in the south is raising concern for the plight of civilians, as the region gears up for independence.
Human Rights Watch last week accused both the army and another rebel group of human rights violations against civilians during clashes in Upper Nile state in early March.
AFP | 23 April 2011Follow @somalilandpress
By Sahra Farah